Bright Side vaccines

Chet Patel, of the South Asian Association of Lancaster and NCS Pharmacy, mixes the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination center inside Bright Side Opportunity Center on Friday, March 19, 2021. The Lancaster NAACP, Patients R Waiting, the South Asian Association of Lancaster, Bright Side Baptist Church and Bright Side Opportunities Center collaborated to provide COVID-19 vaccines for about 400 people inside the Bright Side Opportunities Center that day.

THE ISSUE

The United States surpassed 550,000 deaths to COVID-19 this week — yet another terrible milestone — and surpassed 30 million cases. Pennsylvania now has seen more than 25,000 deaths and more than 1 million cases. There continues to be “substantial” spread of the novel coronavirus in Lancaster County. We’ve seen 974 deaths and 47,656 cases here. Depending on the source, 15%-16% of Americans are fully vaccinated; roughly the same percentage of Pennsylvanians now are fully vaccinated.

First the good news, because we need it:

— The United States now is vaccinating an average 2.7 million Americans a day against COVID-19.

— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective in real-world settings, reducing infections by 90% in fully vaccinated people.

— Moreover, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said data suggests that “vaccinated people do not carry the virus.”

— And here in Lancaster County, some amazing groups are helping to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed equitably. They include the South Asian Association of Lancaster and Patients R Waiting, an organization aimed at eliminating health disparities that was founded by Dr. Cherise Hamblin, a Black doctor and Franklin & Marshall alumnus.

We are grateful to them, as well as to those at Vaccinate Lancaster and Union Community Care (formerly Lancaster Health Center) and everyone getting vaccines into people’s arms.

President Joe Biden says most American adults should be eligible to be vaccinated by April 19, and must be eligible by May 1.

Given Pennsylvania's uneven COVID-19 vaccine rollout, we are eager to learn how state officials plan to fulfill that May 1 directive (though we’re keenly aware that “eligible to be vaccinated” doesn’t equate to “able to be vaccinated”).

We’re hoping for more details — and we do mean details, not just generalities — today when the Pennsylvania Department of Health and members of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force hold a news conference.

Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument, of Mount Joy, is a member of that task force.

For now, Pennsylvania remains in Phase 1a.

A state Health Department spokesperson told LNP | LancasterOnline in an email Friday that the commonwealth remained committed to scheduling at least one vaccine appointment for everyone in Phase 1a by today, and to opening eligibility more broadly by May 1, per Biden’s directive.

According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, “at least 34 states have made all adults eligible to receive one of three approved COVID-19 vaccines — or plan to by mid-April.”

While Pennsylvania thus far has been slower than other states to expand vaccine eligibility, the commonwealth has moved up significantly in the ranking of states for vaccinations administered. Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that Pennsylvania has administered more than 5 million vaccine doses — which is promising news.

Clearly, the vaccine task force Wolf established in February is having an impact.

We’re glad Aument is on that task force — he’s a pragmatic elected official who brings a much-needed commitment to transparency to the state’s dealings with the public.

We just hope the supply chain of vaccine doses from the federal government to the commonwealth to Lancaster County flows quickly.

Because as Ashish K. Jha, dean at Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted Sunday: “We know (it’s) a race between vaccinations & variants. Well, despite phenomenal vaccination rates, variants pulled ahead this week.”

Jha noted that infections were up in 34 states — Pennsylvania among them. “Holding tight until more folks vaccinated key to winning this race,” he observed.

Which brings us to the not-so-good news.

Please, no more surges

CDC Director Walensky said in a Monday news briefing that she has a “recurring feeling” of “impending doom” as states rescind mask mandates, indoor capacity restrictions and other COVID-19 prevention measures.

Setting aside her prepared remarks, Walensky said, “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared.”

She has reasons to be worried. And there are real reasons for us to pay attention to her concerns, as weary as we all are of such warnings.

“Troubling signals abounded Monday,” The Washington Post reported. “Daily case counts continued their trend in the wrong direction. The seven-day rolling average of infections, which is considered the most reliable measure of daily case counts, rose for the seventh consecutive day.”

As LNP | LancasterOnline reported, “The troubling trend is playing out in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, and right here in Lancaster County, where the number of new cases jumped 46% in the past week.

“Health officials are concerned that the situation could worsen as restrictions ease and personal behavior loosens while a majority of the population remains unprotected against the contagious disease.”

Hospitalizations are rising here again, too, though “they remain far below their December peaks,” this newspaper reported. “Deaths, fortunately, have not yet followed the same trend. That could be in part because the most vulnerable people — those older than 65 and people with specific health conditions — received priority for the vaccine. It could also be partly due to the fact that increases in COVID-19 deaths often follow several weeks behind increases in new cases and hospitalizations.”

The Washington Post reports that some hospitals now are admitting younger people with more severe disease. “A new variant of the virus that is more contagious and causes more severe disease is taking hold across the country,” the Post noted.

So if you haven’t yet been vaccinated, we implore you to continue to exercise caution.

It’s a decided drag that more than a year into this pandemic we are sounding the alarm yet again. But the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other hospital workers who have been tirelessly beating back this pandemic all these months are more exhausted, more drained, than the rest of us can imagine.

If you think it’s annoying to wear a mask as the temperatures rise outside, imagine wearing the personal protective equipment that hospital workers must put on before caring for a COVID-19 patient.

We cannot risk another COVID-19 surge. Not when we’ve already endured so much, not when we’ve made so much progress, not when hard-hit businesses are struggling to recover.

So on Easter Sunday, please avoid indoor gatherings if you haven’t been vaccinated. Continue to mask up. Continue to practice social distancing.

Ignoring warning flags, mistaking them for those finish-line checkered flags, would be really unwise.

Please heed the words of Dr. Walensky, which she said she voiced Monday not just as the CDC director but as a wife, mother, daughter and a physician who knows what it's like to stand — “gowned, gloved, masked, shielded” — as patients die without loved ones near: “I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there but not quite yet.

“And so I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.”

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